Korea to tighten its naturalization procedure

Foreigners applying for South Korean citizenship now have to have permanent residency first, the Justice Ministry said Sunday.

In a move to tighten its screening process for foreigners wishing to become South Korean citizens, the ministry said it would revise the Nationality Act to require naturalization seekers to have permanent residency first.

Under the current law, a foreigner could apply for citizenship as long as he or she has lived in the country for five straight years regardless of their visa type or whether one has permanent residency.

Government data shows that about 94,000 foreigners sought naturalization between 2011 and 2015. Of the 94,000 cases, 50,000 cases were foreigners who married Koreans while 4,192 were general naturalization cases.

Among the 4,192 general naturalization applicants from 2011 to 2015, 26 percent, or 1,079 cases, were suspected to have been motivated by an intention to abuse the system.

General naturalization refers to a system designed for adult foreigners with no family connections in the county.

To receive permanent residency, a foreigner must live at least five years in the country. For foreign professionals such as professors and researchers, the ministry reduced the five-year requirement to four years.